Coronavirus The battle

Calls to ease curbs on migrant workers miss larger issues: Minister

Manpower Minister Josephine Teo and Second Minister for Manpower Tan See Leng playing table football with a migrant worker at Terusan Recreation Centre in Jurong yesterday.
Manpower Minister Josephine Teo and Second Minister for Manpower Tan See Leng playing table football with a migrant worker at Terusan Recreation Centre in Jurong yesterday.PHOTO: LIANHE ZAOBAO

As Singapore progresses towards phase three, those calling for restrictions on migrant workers to be loosened are missing the larger issues, said Second Minister for Manpower Tan See Leng yesterday.

This phase of Singapore's reopening, which begins on Dec 28, is not a return to the pre-Covid-19 status quo, said Dr Tan, who is also Second Minister for Trade and Industry.

He added that now is not the time for people to let their guard down as there is a risk of a re-emergence of Covid-19 among migrant workers.

Some international media outlets and local non-governmental organisations (NGOs) have said it is unfair for restrictions to still be in place for the migrant worker community, said Dr Tan in a Facebook post.

"But they have missed the larger issues," he added, noting that the risk of a re-emergence of Covid-19 among migrant workers is "real and significant".

Dr Tan said that while 47 per cent of migrant workers staying in dormitories had been infected with Covid-19 in the past, more than half have not and remain vulnerable.

To minimise their risk of infection, the Government has been building new dormitories with improved safety standards, and migrant workers have started moving into some of them since October.

The average occupancy rates in existing dormitories have also fallen to about 60 per cent.

Migrant workers will also receive the Covid-19 vaccine at no cost, said Dr Tan.

At the same time, other measures such as routine testing every 14 days and the use of contact-tracing devices must remain in place so that new cases can be identified and isolated quickly, he said.

He added that where possible, restrictions have been relaxed to allow those staying in some dormitories to use communal facilities, such as the kitchen, gyms and basketball courts.

Starting from the first quarter of next year, a pilot scheme will allow migrant workers to return to the community gradually.

Dr Tan said the Government recognises its responsibility to keep Singapore's migrant workers safe, and to take care of their livelihoods and welfare. "Few countries have done as much for their migrant workers as we have. We provided them with the same standard of medical care (that) Singaporeans enjoy, at no cost to them."

He noted that despite the scale of the outbreak in the dormitories, only 25 workers have been admitted to the intensive care unit and two workers died of Covid-19-related causes.

Meals, entertainment and counselling services were also provided, and the Government ensured that migrant workers were paid their wages, he said.

"All this took a massive combined effort, with the Government working with healthcare workers, NGOs, charities and community groups," said Dr Tan.

"Some say we have been slow to relax our stringent measures. But the most important thing we can do for our migrant workers is to stay vigilant and make sure their sacrifices are not in vain."

Yesterday, Dr Tan and Manpower Minister Josephine Teo met migrant workers at Terusan Recreation Centre in Jurong to mark International Migrants Day.

Mrs Teo thanked migrant workers for the adjustments they had to make in the fight against Covid-19.

She said: "One encouraging development, I think, is that many more Singaporeans are aware and appreciative of our migrant workers.

"I hope that in 2021 and beyond, this awareness and appreciation of our migrant workers can continue and grow stronger."

 
A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Sunday Times on December 20, 2020, with the headline 'Calls to ease curbs on migrant workers miss larger issues: Minister'. Subscribe